Michigan Recruiting Viewed Through The Ohio State Prism
Last week, Michigan picked up three football commitments for the 2021 class in two days, the kind of positively joyous news a fan should hold to tightly during such trying times, yet instead of excitement, there has been considerable consternation over the prospects U-M took:
• A punter (albeit one of the top-rated special teams players in the 2021 class)
• A three-star linebacker from Massachusetts ranked the No. 1002 player nationally by 247Sports.com
• A four-star tight end ranked No. 187 nationally (this one, fans were legitimately pleased with)
But couple the punter and linebacker with a three-star defensive lineman secured March 25 that ranks No. 1203 nationally, and U-M is looking at as many current recruits outside the Top 1,000 than inside the Top 100 (QB JJ McCarthy at No. 13 and OL Giovanni El-Hadi at No. 71).
Recruiting classes don't sign on the "dotted line" until December, so it's understandable to preach patience to the Michigan fan base, but the best of the best aren't sitting idly by - 17 of the Top 50 recruits in the country, per 247Sports.com, have already announced a college decision, with only three rated as "possible" future Wolverines - McCarthy, No. 38 RB Donovan Edwards (a 40% lean to Michigan) and No. 49 OL Rocco Spindler (a 75% lean to the Wolverines).
In the rankings 51-100, another 24 prospects have already picked a school, including El-Hadi for the Maize and Blue, while Michigan is not considered the frontrunner for any of the remaining 49 recruits.
By all measures, U-M is building a very solid class. The Wolverines presently rank 14th nationally per 247Sports, and Michigan's 90.74 average per man rating (out of 100) puts the Maize and Blue 11th among schools with at least five commitments thus far.
The average is also the third-highest of the Jim Harbaugh era (dating back to the 2015 class) and the program's fifth-highest of the last decade. Within 0.46 points of Michigan's best class (91.20 average with the No. 5 class nationally in 2017), this year's cohort will likely finish Top 10 in the team recruiting rankings, if the average holds.
While Maryland (10 commits), Wisconsin (nine), Rutgers (nine) and Iowa (eight) are all off to great starts, there is consistently just one legitimate competitor to Michigan for runner-up honors in the Big Ten - Penn State, which has finished, on average, within two recruiting spots of U-M in the 2016-20 classes (the Wolverines' average team finish has been 11.4 while the Nittany Lions has been 13.6).
There is much to like about Michigan's class already, starting with McCarthy, the top-rated QB Harbaugh has landed so far and the second-highest ranked quarterback U-M has recruited in the past 20 years (Ryan Mallett was No. 5 overall player in 2007 class).
The Wolverines have three more Top 250 recruits and are the crystal-ball favorites for No. 38 Edwards, No. 144 OL David Davidkov, No. 211 OL Raheem Anderson and No. 261 LB Jamari Buddin, which would give Michigan eight Top 250 commitments (Buddin being just outside the 250).
That's a class almost every school in the Big Ten would be jealous of. Almost everyone. Ohio State would turn its noses at the class. And THAT is the problem.
No matter what side of the fence you're on as a fan or a member of the media - in Harbaugh's corner or not - universally it is agreed upon that more than anything else, Harbaugh (and Michigan) have an Ohio State problem.
Harbaugh has won 78.3% of his games against everyone else. He simply cannot beat the Buckeyes; U-M is 0-5 and has lost to OSU by an average of 19 points per loss. Theories abound whether that is due more to coaching or talent, but by every metric, the talent argument cannot be debated.
According to the 247Sports College Team Talent Composite (which rates a fall roster by its recruiting rankings), Ohio State has been more talented than Michigan every year of the Harbaugh era, by significant margins.
Which brings us back to Michigan's 2021 class and the hand-wringing over U-M's recent pledges. When the hill to be climbed is Ohio State, the measure of success can only be viewed through the prism that is OSU, and the comparative deficiency currently is staggering.
While Michigan has two Top 100 commitments and is favored to land two more, Ohio State has 10 Top 100 recruits (four in the Top 50) and is the favorite to land one more. They are crystal-balled to land four more Top 250 prospects, which, if all comes to fruition, the Buckeyes will sign 14 compared to U-M's eight.
Perhaps most concerning, of the 14 Top 250 players OSU could land, nine come at the skill positions: 2 WR, 2 CB, 2 RB, QB, ATH, TE.
For Michigan, it's one each of QB, RB, TE.
Stress about that, don't stress about that, it's entirely up to you.
In 2020, Ohio State signed the nation's No. 5 class, Michigan signed the No. 14 class. The Scarlet and Gray presently have the No. 1 class in 2021. They're getting more talented at a higher clip than the Wolverines, putting better athletes on the field than the Maize and Blue.
Michigan has done a decent job developing three- and two-stars (six have gone on to get drafted and three more could this month if LB Khaleke Hudson, LB Josh Uche and S Josh Metellus are chosen). However, U-M has had just four first-round picks under Harbaugh (and four total first- or second-round choices) while Ohio State has had 18 first- or second-round selections, including 12 first-rounders.
Talent is talent. OSU has more of it and a higher level of it. And its 2021 class dwarfs what U-M has done (and will likely finish with). When the only prism that matters is the one that reflects scarlet and gray, every football commitment between now and Signing Day in December will be measured against a Buckeye counterpart.